Sierra Hansen, a staffer who handled communications for city council member Mike O'Brien, resigned abruptly last Friday, just three days before the council's viaduct replacement committee discussed agreements with the state that will allow tunnel construction to move forward. O'Brien, who opposes the tunnel, says he plans to vote against the agreements---another in a series of skewed tunnel votes with O'Brien opposing all eight of his council colleagues.
Hansen, who disagrees with O'Brien on the tunnel, says the timing of her decision was purely "coincidental," and that she parted ways with O'Brien "amicably." Hansen says she started the job "not agreeing with [O'Brien] on the tunnel, but I always told him and everyone else that he was asking some really important questions and I was happy to help with him promoting his agenda." However, she adds, "there are probably some policy areas that he's working at pursuing in the future that I was a little bit more skeptical about [and that aren't] the best fit for my personal interests."
Hansen---a board member for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and a longtime staffer for Sound Transit before joining O'Brien's office---says she isn't ready to say what her plans are yet, but that they don't include running for city council, which "a number of people have approached" her about over the past year. "Talking with my family, I just decided this is not the year."
Serious policy differences aside, O'Brien's unconventional style may have also been an issue. O'Brien has raised eyebrows in recent weeks after experimenting with a move into the front half of his council office, traditionally an area reserved for staffers. (Each council member has a large, more private personal back office in addition to the front staff corral.)
"It was kind of a barrier to information coming in and out of the office," Hansen says. "It's just one more example of him saying he doesn't want to work in a hierarchical environment; he wants to be close to the staff."
O'Brien wouldn't comment on Hansen's departure. He did acknowledge, however, that it would be unusual for a council member to sit with his staff instead of in his own office.
"I'm still wrapped around this idea that my job is to do a lot of work, and I feel a little isolated" in the back office, O'Brien says. "I find that I'm much more productive out there, [but] I don't know that my staff is ready to accept the idea."
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